This story begins in January 1966. The U.S. Marine Corps had just classified me "4F" (physically unfit), so I was now back at Nickey Chevrolet driving my two-owner '55 Bel Air 265 V-8 station wagon. I was single and almost 22 years old. For the first time ever, I was a man without a high-performance Chevrolet. I really liked my departed '62 409 that I turned into a drag car, but my driving needs now required something more mileage-efficient. There were 11 years' worth of cool Chevys on the used car market. Most stock '55-57 V-8 models were a few hundred bucks up to a thou. The '58-60 Chevys were $750-1,200. The '61-64 409s were $2,500 or less. There were a zillion Chevy IIs, too.
My friend's '65 350hp 327 L79 Malibu SS really impressed me the summer before. By comparison, in 1964, my '62 409 ran 13.72 at 102 mph with lakes pipes and 4.56:1 gears and slicks. His L79 Malibu ran 13.80 at 101 mph with 3.31:1 gears, seven-inch slicks, and factory-ordered headers. In late 1965/early 1966, a bunch of guys I knew all bought new SS 396 Chevelles. Three of them were black-over-black with a 325 or 350hp engine. My heart really yearned for a '66 Biscayne 427 four-speed, but my pocketbook said otherwise. I liked full-size Chevys, and the '65-66 big-block cars now had a heavy-duty 12-bolt rear end that could take the power. Corvettes and Z16 '65 Chevelles were also out of my price range.
By the end of February 1966, I decided to forsake the great used car market and special-order a brand-new L79 red Chevy II sport coupe. The deciding factor was my steep employee discount. It retailed for $3,210; I paid a little over $2,400. My special-order was accepted on February 25, along with a $100 deposit. On Friday, April 1, I paid $2,372.50 plus tax then drove out of Nickey Chevrolet with what would ultimately be my only brand-new Chevrolet-ever. Ain't that a kick!
Because I grew up on the starting line, the thought of keeping this L79 Chevy II factory stock never ever entered my mind. A stock car was for sure a class eliminations first-round loser. My plan was always to extract every bit of scalding acceleration out of those cars as money and ability would allow. The following morning, April 2, I was off to my friend's Sunoco station where I would install the S&S headers, S&S slapper bars, plus wider wheels with 7.75-14 bias-ply redline tires. The entire exhaust system was removed. On went the headers with straight 3.0-inch intermediate pipes and a pair of 12-inch-long glasspack mufflers. No tailpipes. Yes, it was loud, and it idled with authority!
Early the next morning I drove the Chevy II 60 miles north to Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, Wisconsin. The Chevy II easily won Class C-4, turning 13.40 at a respectable 104.65 mph. The odometer showed 120 miles. The engine was stock-tuned. No ram air and no slicks. Two things I distinctly remember were the number of other Chevy IIs (as many as 19 in the weekends ahead), plus other four-barrel, hydraulic-cammed Mopars, 389 GTOs, and 442s.
In the next week, I super-tuned the engine and dropped in 4.88 gears. The distributor advance curve was quickened, the small 585-cfm Holley carb got larger primary and secondary jets, and the 180-degree thermostat was swapped out to a 160. The car immediately went low 13s on wide ovals and 12.90s with new M&H 9.00-15 slicks. It was a fun street machine. I then installed a clear red plastic hood scoop (boy did it help), plus my old '62 409 tach and EB9A electrical sending unit, and a new Stewart-Warner electric fuel pump. A short time later, a red shoulder harness assembly and a cool Grant GT red metallic steering wheel were added.
My final three modifications were 90/10 front shocks and Air Lift airbags. The L79 got down to 12.72 at 107 mph. The factory 12-bolt rear end handled the gaff. For the record, I also installed the little-known '65 Corvette Muncie shift arms. Both 1-2 and 3-4 arms had a hole punched in the middle. After you installed them you adjusted the shift rods accordingly. The end result was a short-throw shifter like a Hurst Competition-Plus. The arms only cost a few bucks. I still have an extra set today-just in case!
Street RacesOne evening, I drove into the local McDonald's, which was next door to where I bought my '62 409 SS back in 1963. An off-duty policeman worked there nights to keep the peace. As I parked, he came over and said a guy in a blue Chevy II was saying he has the fastest car in town, and would I like to run him? My reply was that I did not street race. He then said, "How about if we block the road?" Hmm, how do you cop out to a cop? You don't. I replied, "Your call." He walked over to the guy in the silver blue L79 Chevy II SS and told him he would call his motorcycle officers and we'd see how fast his car was.
In a few minutes, in came a pair of Harley motorcycle officers. We followed them out to a rural road with no intersections. One cop went down to the end and the other stayed near us. They communicated with walkie-talkies. I told the guy who owned the "fastest car in town" to beep his horn three times and launch on the third beep. My buddy's eyes were getting as big as cue balls. I casually told him that I knew the guy had a big Isky 310 hydraulic cam with M/T four-tube headers. But the cam was too much on the street-especially through his stock mufflers. He also had no in-your-face driving experience.
On the third beep, we launched side-by-side. I powershifted to Second gear at 5,500 rpm and jumped him half a car length. He hit Second gear at probably 7,000 rpm, then I hit Third gear at 5,200 rpm and pulled him a few more feet. We were even in Fourth gear. Red Chevy II over blue Chevy II by one car length. We then turned around and raced again. Luckily, there were no homes in the area. Can you imagine someone calling the cops to report a street race but the cops were already there? I won the second race by 1 1/4 car lengths. I then drove back to McDonald's behind the two Harley officers. The other Chevy II guy never came around anymore. He was in the Air Force at a local radar/rocket guidance silo base.
After seven months of ownership, I decided to part company. I put the II back to mostly stock and sold it for $2,000 (the same that I got for my '62 409). I was a subscriber to Popular Hot Rodding magazine and followed their stories on the Project X '57 210. I decided to drive to California with my L79 Chevelle friend in his new '66 Grand Prix and find a rust-free '55-57 Nomad station wagon. But that's another story!